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Even LA County District Attorney George Gascón Warns “Don’t Get Scammed Out of Your Home”

Posted by Thompson Von Tungeln | Jun 20, 2023 | 0 Comments

You've done everything right. You've worked long and hard to support your family and raise the kids. After many years, you've paid off your mortgage and your children are grown and raising their own families. Your house has increased significantly in value and you are counting on your home equity for your retirement or to leave something for the next generation.

Unfortunately, doing all the right things has made you the most attractive and vulnerable target for home title fraud and elder financial abuse. In particular, with PPP and COVID scams gone and home prices surging, criminals are increasingly focusing on home title theft to either steal your home outright or taking your hard-earned home equity.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, 5.74 million cases of fraud were reported in 2021, a 24.2% increase over an already alarmingly high 4.87 million cases in 2020. The losses from these financial crimes are staggering and continue to mount. In fact, $8.8 billion in losses were reported in 2022, a 44.3% increase from 2021. Things have gotten so out of control that even “progressive” Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón has published an alert on their official web with a stark warning to homeowners: “Don't Get Scammed Out of Your Home.”

How They Do It

The title to your home is the only legal document that proves you own your house and this vulnerability in the system is what criminals and con artists focus on.

First, someone illegally steals your identity. They typically steal your mail or find some other means of stealing your identity in order to create fake identification using your name, such as a driver's license or passport, but with their photo on it so that they can then transfer your house title to their name to steal money or property.

Second, they will either forge a home deed and transfer title or simply use their fake ID and your personal information to take out a large “cash-out” refinancing. They will take all the cash and leave you with a massive mortgage that you know nothing about. They typically do not want or gain possession of your home so the first time you find out that this crime has occurred is when you start receiving mortgage delinquency notices to your home!

Alternatively, scam artists may approach a homeowner who may be in financial hardship and offer a fake refinancing opportunity that sounds like the perfect solution to their problem. What the homeowner doesn't know is that when they're signing paperwork for what they believe is a home refinancing, they are actually signing away the title and transferring ownership of their home to the scammer! Already in financial distress, this cruel and devastating crime often leaves the poor homeowner with absolutely nothing.

The image that this article from the American Bar Association paints is a daunting one:

“You have owned your beautiful home for ten years.  You are one-third of the way to paying off your mortgage. You have enough money to pay your mortgage, buy groceries, pay utility bills and save a little for retirement. Then your financial life is shattered.

The first notice you receive is that you have failed to pay on a $350,000 loan on your property that you knew nothing about and the second notice is that your home is being foreclosed for failure to repay a $500,000 loan, also secured by your home. The notices come from two different lenders that you do not recognize.

You contact your title company and discover that there is a satisfaction of your primary mortgage that was filed on your house. Next you discover that your home was transferred by deed to another party and refinanced for $500,000 as a new primary loan. You then discover that there is a second mortgage on your home for $350,000. You obtain copies of all these documents and see that your name has been forged on the deed. There is a notary stamp and notary signature on these documents, all from the same notary.

You report the matter to the local police. The police tell you that no such person exists that is the grantee on your deed and the notary does not appear anywhere in the licensed notary lists of your state. As for the $850,000, there is no trace of who obtained it or where it went.

You now must hire an attorney to stop the foreclosure and get your house back. The lending institution is not very sympathetic and goes forward with the sale of your home. You are forced to move and are left with a judgment against you because the house sells for only $300,000, leaving you with a debt of $550,000 plus the costs of the foreclosure.”

How to Avoid Being Scammed

The Good News is that you can avoid becoming a victim.  No other law firm in the area has more experience and expertise with Estate Protection.

First, understand and accept that you are being targeted because of your age and substantial home equity.

Second, take common sense steps to help deter identify theft such as shredding documents and not giving out your personal information over the phone, text or e-mail.  Additionally, if you stop receiving usual bills that you get in the mail, such as utility bills or property tax statements, that may be a cause for concern worth looking into. In addition, the county will send copies of documents recorded against a property, so you should receive a notice of some kind if ever there's a change in ownership or a loan taken out.

Third, if you are away for extended periods of time or go out of town, be sure to have a trusted person look after your home and check your mail to prevent any individuals from unlawfully occupying your home or taking your mail.

Fourth, contact us so we can professionally evaluate your situation and share some Estate Protection options for you to consider.

How TVT Can Help

As the largest estate planning law firm in the area, we are unfortunately seeing an increasing number of matters related to asset loss, identity theft, defective and outdated trusts and elder financial abuse in just the past few months.

We can help keep you and your home safe. There are a number of ways we can help ensure that you and your home are not targeted by criminals in the first place and, if they do find you, to help ensure that they cannot steal your home or your home equity.

If you would like more information about home title fraud or ways to protect yourself, please contact our firm at 661-945-5868 for a free appointment or attend one of our free and updated Estate Planning and Asset Protection Seminars.

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